Saturday, November 12, 2011

Interweave Knitting Lab: Review - Part 2

Vivan Hoxbro, Anne Modesitt and Shirley Paden
Are four days at Interweave Knitting Lab at the San Mateo Marriott enough to absorb, feel, remember, and tell the story of the experience? It will have to be, because Knitting Lab is over. The designers, authors, teachers, experts, vendors have all gone home or to their next teaching assignments.

But the memories linger on. And what great memories! Here's a sampling of what I experienced.

GALINA KHMELEVA: Broken Borders - Lace Restoration Therapy

On the first day, Thursday, November 3, I was on the waitlist for Annie Modesitt's Charted Entrelac & Entrelace class. I had never taken a class from her before, and it was not to be this time. My scheduled class was with Galina Khmeleva, Broken Borders: Lace Restoration Therapy. This class was therapy indeed. See a full review here. (I got so excited, I wrote a full review on Day 1 when I got home that night.)

COOKIE A: Sock Innovation

On Friday, I took a day-long sock design class with Cookie A. I'm not a sock knitter by category, but I do enjoy the architecture and design of socks, which is something Cookie and I have in common. Cookie is a bit of a mad scientist, weaving patterns and motifs together to build incredibly beautiful sock designs. She communicates her theorems like a high school math teacher. We used Japanese and German stitch pattern books to pick a chart or two to integrate into our designs.

Cookie loves ribbing. That sounds a little racy, but actually, she made me think about it more than I ever had before. How does the ribbing of the sock flow into the pattern? What makes a good ribbing or a bad ribbing? We counted the repeats required to go around the sock. We designed our ribbing to flow into the charted pattern. We figured out how much we needed to increase or decrease after the ribbing and still make the pattern flow into an elegant, balanced design.

And then, of course, there was suckage. This is Cookie's term for what happens when you include a cable pattern in a sock design. The cables cross and suck the sides of your sock inward, making for an uncomely appearance, and sometimes an uncomfortable sock. Each of us in class was tuned in to the suckage problem, so much that it became part of our class vernacular. "I've got a 3x3 cable, so how much suckage do I have?" "What are you going to do about the suckage?" We also talked about the reverse problem: the extra girth provided by lace patterns in socks. But no relative term was coined. I need my jargon, so how about: "I've got 5 yarnovers in each repeat, so how much blimpage do I have?" or "What are you going to do about the Zeppelin effect?" You decide.

We also talked about dividing stitches for the heel, and how to center the design attractively on the top of the foot. We talked about the shapes of feet, and making a wedge toe and other toe shapes to make the sock comfortable and fit properly. Cookie announced that she has Fred Flintstone feet, squarish across the toes.

I'm not an expert yet, but I feel equipped to design a good sock now, not a simply adequate one.

JUNE HIATT: The Principles of Knitting

June Hiatt came to speak on her book The Principles of Knitting. The book will be released in February, totally rewritten, revised, re-researched. June spoke as if she were Tom Hanks in Castaway, emerging from her exile of researching and writing. She spoke about how she spent a decade writing the first edition, back in 1989, and how she spent about the SAME amount of time rewriting this new edition. She looked at every piece and made changes, typing it from scratch.

She remarked about how some people have tried to explain how one technique was different or better than another technique, and she would answer, "It's my book," while continuing on her way. She explained that she didn't interview or ask anyone questions, since the techniques were well documented in books and on the Internet. I noticed many people in the room glancing at each other, wondering if we were all thinking the same thing at that moment.


On Tuesday, November 1, those who had their hearts set on seeing and hearing Barbara Walker speak on her amazing career and life received an email from Interweave that an emergency would prevent her from coming to speak at Knitting Lab. For many, Ms. Walker's appearance was the primary reason for attending this event. At first, I was saddened and hoped that she was well. Information was revealed on-site that she was having gall bladder surgery. We all wished her well.

In her stead, we were treated to a lively panel discussion which included the following speakers: Vivian Hoxbro, Annie Modesitt, Marilyn Murphy, Shirley Paden, Susan Strawn, Meg Swansen, Eunny Jang, moderator.

Eunny Jang, Susan Strawn, Marilyn Murphy, Meg Swansen

Aside from the sheer brilliance of this panel, their variety of skills and knowledge and their cultural and generational attitudes represented something like a United Nations of knitting. I felt completely at home in their presence, and delighted to be a part of this unique event, befitting the new tradition that is Knitting Lab. I hope this panel discussion becomes a part of every Knitting Lab event in the future and that additional experts from more countries and backgrounds are included.

I've admired Shirley Paden's designs and dressmaking techniques for many years, yet I had never heard her speak. I now wish I had been able to squeeze into one of her classes. I was able to speak to her for a short time after the panel discussion and she encouraged me to join her Ravelry group (called We Love Shirley Paden, started by a fan).

I also enjoyed listening to Susan Strawn's remarks and recollections. She's an absolutely brilliant speaker, and I certainly would put her class on my wish list for next year's Knitting Lab curriculum. Susan is a historian, a teacher of dress and culture history at Dominican University in Illinois, and has written the historical reference Knitting America.


My roommate and I hadn't taken time for a meal break on Friday night, so we headed to the restaurant.  I had a delicious mushroom risotto and an adult beverage.  The food we were served at dinner each night was tasty, and I had no complaints.  Also, the service was very pleasant, and my friends remarked that the employees made an effort to keep us feeling happy and welcomed.

The American breakfast buffet, included with the guest room stay, was fantastic.  A wide assortment of breakfast items included: omelettes made to order, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, bakery items, fruit, yogurt, cereal, smoked salmon, coffee, tea, juices ... I'm probably forgetting something, but it was fabulous and got us off to a good start each morning.

However, the lunch buffet for conference attendees was expensive and not satisfying.  The Caesar salad in a box was $12 with minimal protein -- just lettuce, a few soft croutons, a sprinkling of packaged shredded parmesan and a tiny piece of chicken breast, together with a pouch of lemony, un-Caesar dressing.  Not acceptable.  The sandwiches were $8 -- either roast beef or turkey with a piece of lettuce and tomato on plain white or wheat bread.  Blah.  Nothing makes a conventioneer more cranky than a blah lunch.  To protest, I did order a quesadilla from the restaurant for lunch on one day that was acceptable and tasty (though not traditional, I did enjoy it).

The rooms were lovely; however, there was a shortage of refrigerators.  I like to have a cold drink and maybe some fruit or cheese in my refrigerator at a conference, so I asked specifically for a room with a fridge.  They told me there was a shortage and "would you like to be put on the waiting list?"  "No, thank you, I'd just like a room with a fridge."  They miraculously found one for me, after I complained a bit.

The meeting rooms were appropriately sized for the number of students.  In some cases, the rooms were very cold.  Luckily, we were all wearing sweaters or shawls.

The sound system in the Inspire ballroom where we heard the evening speakers needs to be improved.  Occasional feedback and muffled sound marred the speaker's delivery.  For this reason, my friends and I made an effort to get into the ballroom early and sit in front.

Getting around the hotel was amusing.  The guest room elevators were down a corridor, away from the lobby and the conference elevators.  With everyone roaming around and getting lost, I found myself in the elevator with various famous designers and teachers on several occasions.  Meg Swansen and Amy Detjen asked me how to find the room elevators, so I walked them down the hall like a tour guide.  Shirley Paden, looking elegant in a white blouse and navy slacks, chatted amiably with students on her way down to the lobby.

The collegial atmosphere seemed to uplift and encourage everyone to mingle and get to know each other.  It felt different from Stitches West, another knitters' convention that explodes every February in Santa Clara. At Stitches, many people are there for the Market, and you lose your student experience in the hustle and bustle.  At Knitting Lab, the majority of attendees went to at least a class or two.  I also found myself having discussions at a more intimate level than at Stitches.  The pace seemed a bit slower, a bit more conducive to learning.  I was tired and fulfilled at the end of each day.

Coming soon: Part 3

Friday, November 04, 2011

More photos from Knitting Lab

Jane and Nina

A real Estonian shawl on the silent auction table.  Last bid was $200, and climbing.

Another silent auction item from the cover of Interweave Knits

Waiting for the Market to open

The line forming outside the Market

In my hot little hand ... alpaca/silk/merino from Just Our Yarn

And the shopping frenzy begins

Oodles of spindles at Carolina Homespun's booth

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Interweave Knitting Lab: Review - Part 1

When you feel that anticipation, the kind old timers may remember from the Heinz Ketchup commercials, you know that something good is coming.  Something delicious and wonderful.  With Day 1 of Interweave Knitting Lab behind me, I haven't been disappointed.

I should qualify that.  I was disapointed a couple of days ago, when I found out that Barbara Walker would not be attending.  Meeting her was one of the main reasons I wanted to go to Interweave's premiere event at the San Mateo Marriott, on November 3-6, 2011.  Barbara wrote the Treasuries of Knitting, Mosaic Knitting, Knitting from the Top, and many other knitting resources.  She's at the pinnacle of the knitting authority pyramid.  We still haven't heard the reason behind her absence, except that it was an emergency.  Everyone hopes that she's okay.

Nevertheless, I took two days off from work to attend this knitting extravaganza. Why all the fuss?  Well, a few reasons, including: the small classes; the brilliance of the teaching staff; and ... it's in my backyard!  Well, I only had to drive a few miles from where I live.

San Mateo Marriott is in a weird spot, alongside Highway 101 on the west side.  It definitely caters to Silicon Valley conventioneers, with meeting rooms named Connect, Inspire, Synergy, etc.

I met in Connect 5 today with Galina Khmeleva, who gave a lecture class on Broken Borders: Lace Restoration Therapy.  I've been a fan of Galina's for several years, and had already picked up a copy of her Gossamer Webs book of patterns.  I had heard rumors that she was an opinionated teacher, who didn't take any guff.  And for goodness sake, don't be late to class!  I suppose I was a bit apprehensive, wondering if the class would feel like Catholic grammar school, when we sat with hands folded, back straight, not speaking with our neighbors.  On the contrary, the class was small, only about ten students, and Galina made us feel at home.  She made eye contact with each of us, smiling and telling stories about how she learned and perfected her lace restoration techniques.

Galina is the foremost expert on Orenburg lace.  She can tell you stories that would curl the mohair of the most jaded lace knitter.  I was flabbergasted to learn that my methods of storing my lace shawls were all wrong, that moth eggs can survive and actually hatch for up to three years, and that cedar can leave yellow spots on your fabrics.

Oh ... my ... gosh ... I was writing notes as fast as I could. I didn't want to miss anything important.  But then Galina would smile and tell us a funny story, and more than once she exclaimed, "Piece of cake!"

Whew.  I felt better.  If Galina says it's a piece of cake, then by golly, it's a piece of cake.  There's no doubt about it.  That's how she makes you feel.

In order for me to get a good night's sleep tonight in preparation for my Sock Innovation class with Cookie A tomorrow, I'm going to speed through my notebook and give you the highlights from Galina's many nuggets of wisdom.  Really good stuff.


When finding moth holes, the most important thing is to kill the eggs and larvae or whatever remains in the fabric.  Those little eggs stick.  They do not shake out or even wash out.  To kill the buggers, she zips up the lace in a Ziplock bag and freezes it on the highest setting in her freezer for two weeks.  Then she takes it out to air, rearranges it, and zips it up again and repeats this procedure three or four times.  The temperature changes are important.  They make the eggs think it's time to hatch, or something like that.

More moth facts:
- Moth larvae develop at 65% humidity and 64 degrees F -- this is the sweet spot for moths.
- Larvae develop in 12 days.
- Moths can lay 200 eggs in a lifetime.
- Only 2% may survive.
- Eggs that survive are viable for up to three years.
- Eggs can hatch inside a Ziplock or plastic bin, and the larvae have nowhere to go, so they eat your wool.

Other pests who might eat your wool:

- Silverfish
- Crickets
- Carpet beetles
- Japanese ladybugs (the kind gardeners use)
- Some ants (some in CO, AZ, NM)


Keep all fabrics clean.  Don't put anything away soiled.  This includes:
- After you've worn it (bugs love perfume, food spatter, proteins, etc.)
- After you've finished making it (wash and block before you store)

Use acid free tissue or unbleached muslin to separate sweaters.

Store them in a plain cardboard box.  Shoeboxes or shirt boxes are okay.

Don't store any boxes on the floor.

Don't store sweaters/shawls in Ziplocks or plastic. (I've got some reorganizing to do.)

Try Moth Guard - an odorless powder that can be diluted with water and sprayed on.  It's used in the carpet industry.  Galina didn't know the composition, but I looked online and it's a fluoride base.  I'm always worried about anything chemical, so I'd like to learn more about this before trying it.

Scents moths don't like:
- lavender
- eucalyptus
- citrus (Galina uses dried orange peels)
- dry tobacco leaves
- jasmine teabags
- cedar (this does leave yellow spots on fabric, so be careful how you use it)

Cedar chests dry out!  You may think you're protected, but you're not.


Orenburg shawls have these common attributes:
- two-ply, silk and cashmere
- garter stitch (no stockinette)
- scalloped border

Historically, in a Russian cottage industry of 12,500 knitters, Broken Borders were fixed by the most experienced, respected women.  The most common place for a shawl to break was at the corners, during blocking.


Use a tapestry needle and a nylon cord from the hardware store.  Sew through the points with an overhand stitch, not a running stitch, always coming up through the fabric from the back.  If you use a running stitch, some of the tips may twist into "goat's tits" (thank you for the image, Galina!).

After threading the points, then wash in 98 degree F water.  The nylon cord will allow the points to slide. Pin out the four corners.  Arrange the points.  Wrap another separate piece of cord around the four corner pins.  Without pinning through the shawl, T-pin the threaded cord in between the points.


Camel, cashmere, bison, and yak do not like to felt. Rabbit and merino do like to felt (with temperature change and agitation).


"I hate bunnies; I just eat them."

In the concentration camps, production of soldier's gloves and helmet liners during wartime was enormous.  Also, Galina is allergic to bunnies.


Outline the repair area with a red silk thread.  Use a styrofoam board, muslin, and dark fabric under the work.  I wish I could show you how she fixed a hole before our very eyes, using a duplicate stitch. The expertise was quite amazing.  She is also teaching classes at The Lace Museum in Sunnyvale in February.

.... That's all for tonight, folks. Time to sleep and dream of socks and lace and twisted stitches and Japanese charts.  Oh, I'd better just sleep.

Guess who

I've been magically transported (through the looking glass, apparently) to a knitters' paradise in San Mateo - Interweave Knitting Lab!  Reports coming soon. Oh, there's Nancy Marchant ...

Tuesday, September 06, 2011


At the King's Mountain Art Festival near Skyline and Hwy 92 in Woodside, I found the most delicious 80% Bluefaced Leicester / 20% silk laceweight.  Lovely blended colors dappled with drops of sunlight.  My heart went pitty-pat.  Here it is, along with a few festival photos.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Ring Bearer Pillow

My cousin Alexis was married on Saturday to her beloved Roger in San Francisco. They have two beautiful children, and her youngest, a two-year-old boy named Benjamin, was the ring bearer. He was walked down the aisle by his Uncle Lucas. His sister Aidan was one of the flowergirls.

The doily is from Lavori Artistici a Calza #11. The pillow is handsewn by me using ivory bridal satin and some peach-pink tulle to match the bride's accessory color.

The yarn is a silk/wool blend, knitted with size US0, and the beads are Japanese glass beads. I tied an ivory ribbon on top to hold the rings.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Blocking Haruni

Haruni was a labor of love from the start.  My creative, experienced lace knitter friends started working on the Haruni Shawl by Emily Ross, as a group project.  At first, I thought about using a smooth, silky yarn for Haruni, but I was drawn back to the chosen Habu yarn for its uniqueness.

The yarn is 1/14 spiral slub.  It's 51% wool, 20% polyester, 20% nylon.  Lace knitters might make the following assumptions:
  1. Slub yarn?  Forget it.  The lace pattern won't show up well.
  2. Wool with polyester and nylon? Forget it.  It won't block well.
  3. It's thread!  Forget it.  Too fine.
I couldn't help myself; it was a challenge.  I knit a little swatch.  The slubs made it more difficult to  keep an even tension, but the texture was interesting enough to keep going.  The yarn stretched and retracted in a weird way, probably due to the spiraling nylon and polyester.  Blocking was going to be interesting.

The pattern is repetitive until you get to the border, which requires a bit of concentration to get it right. I added several repeats to get the size I wanted, since the thread was so fine, even though I was knitting with size US3 needles.  I ended up with nine pairs of leaves per side, plus four center leaves. Big, open, superfine laciness.

I only had two cones of Habu, at 435 yards each.  From the notes on Ravelry and the pattern, I gathered that I would need about half of my total yardage for the border.  As the shawl gets bigger, I believe the ratio of border to shawl is reduced.  I needed approximately half of my second cone for the border leaves.

Initially, I planned to use some light violet silk for the border.  The silk is lovely, but it's much better suited to smaller needles and a denser fabric.  It was purchased from John Marshall at Stitches West this year.

Instead, I stayed with the Habu and beaded the border! The tiny 11/0 seed beads are slightly iridescent and accent the purplish binding thread that runs through the shawl. The tough part of the beading process was the size of the beads and the slubbiness of the yarn. I used a size 12 steel crochet hook to add the tiny glass beads as I knit, and often I had a bit of trouble pulling those slubs through.

So, here are the blocking photos.  I basically blocked it as I wanted it to look, rather than by any book or rule.  However, I did use common sense and experience as guides.

Haruni unblocked and unwashed
After laying out the shawl flat on my blocking board, I decided how I wanted to block it.  It was too large for the board.  My choices would be to a) block one half at a time, left side then right side, holding the center line straight with a blocking rod; b) block the main body and center point first, and finish the wing extensions separately afterward; c) use the big piece of berber carpet I have rolled up in the garage for the purpose of blocking large lace items.  I chose (b).

First I soaked the shawl in a cool water bath for about five minutes.  I added a drop of dishwashing liquid to the water and swirled it around, without too much agitation.  I did squeeze the soapy water through it a couple of times.  Then I rinsed with water of the same temperature.
Haruni in a cool water bath with a drop of dishwashing liquid

Haruni rolled in a towel

Gently squeezing Haruni to remove excess water
After the wash, I pinned out the top center and bottom center of the shawl.  I put the top edge on a rod -- except for the eight inches (or so) of wing extensions that I would block later.
Bottom center point pinned out

Top center area on a blocking rod
Then I pinned out every other pair of leaves, starting at the bottom, and working side to side -- two leaves on one side, then two leaves on the other side.
Pinning out every other pair of leaves
Then I pinned out the rest of the leaves, just two loops in the middle of each pair of leaves.  I tried to balance the two sides, so they would look about equal.  This shawl is curved and very fine.  You may hear knitters talk about blocking "by feel" or "by eye" -- basically, blocking using experience and common sense.
All the leaves pulled out and pinned
Then I pinned out all of the loops for each pair of leaves, followed by the few loops in between each pair.

Pinning out all the loops
Considering how many pins have to be pushed into a fairly rigid surface, I used this leather thimble.  It has a small metal disk built into the thumb pad area, and is very comfortable to wear.
Leather thimble

What happens when you push a pin too hard
These are the wing extension I mentioned that needed to be blocked last.  They extended too far over the edge of my blocking board.  I could have been industrious and looked around for some foam or some other surface to use as an extension, but decided to block these after the main blocking was completed.
Wing extensions to be blocked last
So I completed pinning the main body of the shawl, and I spritzed it with a bit of water.  Some of the shawl had dried a bit while I was pinning.  I wanted it to be evenly damp and dry evenly, holding its shape.
Spritzing the pinned shawl with a little water
Then it was time for break.
Lovely dark chocolate from the only chocolate factory in San Francisco

Pet the puppy
Back to work.  I unpinned the huge thing, laid a sheet down over the blocking board, and spread the shawl out again.  This is because I planned on using spray starch to finish it, and didn't want the starch on my board.

To finish, I used no pins.  I lightly sprayed one half of the shawl with Niagara spray starch.  Then I laid a white pillowcase on top of the shawl and used a medium iron (wool setting is okay) and gently ironed on top of the pillow case.  It's important to keep checking the piece underneath to make sure it's laying properly and to make sure your yarn doesn't melt!  Remember, I was using a yarn with polyester and nylon components, so anything was possible.  Also, if using beads, make sure that the beads are somewhat heat resistant.  I've used Japanese glass beads before, and they hold up well under this type of blocking and a light iron.  If possible, it's best to test a swatch first (I was impatient, but it would have been the smart thing to do).  Some beads can melt or change color.  You just have to be careful.
Haruni ready for a light starch
Then I pinned out the wing extensions.  This is where I made a slight error.  When I sprayed a little water on the wing after it was pinned, I also dampened the pre-blocked area around it.  No problem, right?  But it did soften up the points on the leaves adjacent.  I had to re-pin and block the points to make them sharp and pointy again.
Pinning out the wings
I decided to be really picky and pin out a few more points as well.  The loops were very reluctant to stay sharp, but I kept after them, and eventually, with pinning and starching, they behaved well.
Wings pinned with adjacent points repinned

Final result on a black background